The Impact of AI on Destination Marketing: Moving from an Age of Information to an Age of Answers

December 21, 2023 by Jason Linder
The Impact of AI on Destination Marketing: Moving from an Age of Information to an Age of Answers

By: Jason Linder, President & CEO of Ripe

Having crossed the one-year mark since the launch of ChatGPT, our journey through the evolving AI landscape has been marked by rapid and significant advancements. As we reflect on the strides made during this period, Ripe President & CEO Jason Linder, shifts his focus to the potential implications for the destination marketing industry and DMOs. 

A few months ago, around the time of the ChatGPT launch frenzy, I was in the middle of planning a ski trip to Canada. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a passionate traveler dedicated to hyper-local experiences. Naturally, I hesitated to trust ChatGPT with crafting the tailored local experience I wanted. But, as someone equally dedicated to innovating within the travel tech industry, I knew I had to. And I was pleasantly surprised. An itinerary up to my standards was spat back at me within seconds.

With the new wave of speculation on an AI takeover, I reflected on this moment because, at the time, I wondered, like everyone else, if ours was yet another industry that everyone theorized AI would consume. Though there is no denying the AI takeover is ongoing, it’s still going to take a minute to figure out what that looks like. So it’s time for us to settle in, assess, and prepare for its impacts on destination marketing and position ourselves to prevent obsolescence.

Why Conversational AI Puts the Current DMO Model at Risk

Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) historically typically survive off of demonstrating attribution for their efforts to justify funding. This can be measured by traffic and referrals from their website, and they focus on content creation to achieve this. 

Although DMOs face pretty serious competition, their legitimacy makes them successful in their space. Travelers seek genuine, local content in their research process, and DMOs are experts in their destination, so naturally, they attract travelers to their sites. Even in an age of content commoditization and rivalry from Online Travel Agencies, bloggers, and influencers, DMOs remain the single most reputable source and voice of authority for their destinations. 

The rise of ChatGPT, Bard, and now Twitter’s Grok, AI tools has the potential to shift the future viability of this model. We are at the end of an age of information and approaching one of the answers. I anticipate that, for this reason, we may see a decline in traffic to DMO websites as travelers transition away from traditional search engines. No longer are travelers seeking to be overwhelmed with all the possibilities of a destination. They are looking for an itinerary that is tailored to them, their interests, and, of course, the destination. Traditionally occupying top search positions, DMOs will have to pivot to meet the evolving preference for direct answers over information inundation.

Researching travel plans and prepping map and notes

Preserving DMO Authority in the AI Era

In the destination, travel, and tourism space, travelers will be using ChatGPT and other AI tools for their convenience.

This past summer, Stephanie Auslander from Destinations International asked ChatGPT about the future of the tourism industry. She wrote that it responded, “In summary, the future of the tourism industry with Artificial Intelligence has the potential to enhance personalization, provide improved customer service, and utilize data to drive decision making, resulting in an enhanced return on investment.”

However, the ease with which travelers can plan with an AI tool does not, and I argue that with the right preparation, it will not negate what DMOs have today that makes them so successful: their authority. Destination Marketing Organizations exist because they are a reflection of the local expert and experience, and that is something that’s difficult to replicate with an AI tool.

The problem is that if DMOs do not position themselves to keep their authority, they run the risk of both being one of the primary sources for ChatGPT to provide users with information and losing attribution for their content and expertise.

AI Models’ Limitation: Dependence on Content Websites

Were DMOs to lose the necessary funding to keep them afloat, AI would lose one of the most valuable sources of local travel information. Although ChatGPT and Bard are certainly powerful, one of their known limitations is the information itself that they provide.

Nico Grant and Cade Metz from The New York Times write, “Like similar chatbots, Bard is based on a kind of A.I. technology called a large language model, or L.L.M., which learns skills by analyzing vast amounts of data from across the internet. This means the chatbot often gets facts wrong and sometimes makes up information without warning — a phenomenon A.I. researchers call hallucination.”

The demise of DMO websites would be detrimental to DMOs, AI tools, and travelers alike. DMOs, the experts and advocates for their destinations, would no longer be able to showcase the unique charms and offerings of their local communities. The absence of DMO websites would not only hinder their ability to fulfill this role but also impact AI tools like ChatGPT, depriving them of a reliable source of authentic information. 

Which brings us to travelers. The potential loss of DMO websites would be more than just a void in information — it would mean the loss of a trusted conduit to authentic, locally curated content and experience. The trove of information on lesser-known destination spots, hidden gems like hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and a direct link to communities would be at risk. In its place, there might be a heightened reliance on AI, which, without consistent content sources, could face challenges in assisting travelers in crafting meaningful experiences and establishing genuine connections with the communities they seek to explore.

Couple exploring a small town on rainy day

How can DMOs Prevent their Obsolescence? 

As we navigate the evolving landscape of destination marketing shaped by the rise of AI, the question that pervades is, “How can DMOs prevent their obsolescence?” The recent rise of AI tools has been among the most impactful innovations, arguably even more so than social media, cell phones, and the Internet itself. The apparent threat lies in the potential absorption of content-focused DMOs but the solution lies in the understanding that AI tools’ efficacy relies on accurate information and content. 

While the timeline for AI’s complete takeover remains uncertain, DMOs must proactively pivot their strategies to align with the emerging Age of Answers catalyzed by AI. Here are some key themes to consider while navigating this process:

  1. Preserving Authority: Identify areas where your organization holds significant authority and strategize ways to maintain it. 
  2. Balancing Personalized and Rich Content: Explore ways to seamlessly provide the personalized answers and recommendations travelers seek while striking a balance with rich, informative material.
  3. Distinguishing Voice: Identify your DMO’s voice and distinguish it as the source of authenticity for your destination as told by real locals, not AI.
  4. Leveraging AI Tools: Investigate how your DMO can integrate AI tools on its site to support the ease of use that modern travelers expect.
  5. E-commerce Integration: Consider the role of commerce in supporting attribution efforts rather than relying solely on metrics like website traffic.

Keep an eye out for more insights on this critical theme in upcoming Ripe blog and trends and insights posts.